Today in Movie History: March 8

It was easy to overlook The Birdcage when it was released twenty years ago today . Based on the French film La Cage aux Folles, it did well at the box office, but felt at the time like more Robin Williams slapstick: soaking up Hollywood’s newfound tolerance for homosexuals and repeating trite observations about tolerance and understanding. In retrospect, however, it looks like a comedic masterpiece. The jokes hold water across multiple viewings and the skewering of right-wing homophobia feels more timely now than ever. More importantly, Williams and Nathan Lane play their characters — a Miami nightclub owner and his flamboyant main attraction — as more than just swishy stereotypes. They genuinely care about each other and — devoid of the preachiness of Philadelphia and its ilk — come across as authentic in ways its contemporaries couldn’t. Williams, in particular, delivers one of the better performances of his career: surprisingly disciplined and with a keen eye on the big picture. It opened today in 1996.

For those of you, like me, who were absolutely crushed by the wretched Will Smith version of I Am Legend, look to Vincent Price to save the day. He starred in an earlier version of the story, The Last Man on Earth, which suffered from a low budget but still managed to capture the core of the Richard Matheson source novel far better than Hollywood’s crass and noisy butchery. It opened today in 1964.


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